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In 1907 Wisconsin, seventeen-year-old Marie Reehs is determined: she will not marry a violent man, as did her mother and grandmother before her. Day after day, Marie toils at the local laundry, watched by an older man who wants to claim her for his own. Night after night, she is haunted by the memory of her mother, who died in a mysterious accident to which her father was the only witness. She longs for an independent life, but her older sister wants nothing more than to maintain the family as it was, with its cruel rules and punishments. Her younger sister is too young to understand. At first, it seems that Marie's passionate love affair with a charismatic young man will lead her to freedom. But she soon realizes that she too may have inherited the Reehs women's dark family curse.